A mission to aid the abused

County to honor officer's efforts in Hispanic community

March 25, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Pfc. Sandra Argueta-Copley can talk to abused Hispanic women in a way few officers can - she speaks their language.

Copley, 29, has woven her Spanish-language skills with six years of policing experience and a personal interest in domestic violence issues to form a program aimed at lifting Hispanic women from abusive situations.

Her initiative will be recognized tomorrow with a community service award, one of the top honors given by the Howard County Police Department.

As a midnight-shift patrol officer and an on-call volunteer for the Domestic Violence Center, Copley said she passes out her home, work, cell phone and pager numbers to any woman she thinks might be a victim of abuse.

"If they need me, I'll be there," Copley said. "It's something I'm passionate about."

Chief Wayne Livesay said Copley's work as a patrol officer and volunteer made her a natural choice for the 2001 community service award, which she shares with Harper's Choice HotSpot coordinator Cpl. Donna Rowlette.

Copley started a policing project in 1998 that identified a deficiency in resources for Hispanic victims of domestic violence, and she aims to fill the void.

With Lt. Stephen Prozeralik, Copley responds to domestic violence calls that are too dangerous for counselors at the Domestic Violence Center. Prozeralik nominated Copley for the award.

Luz Enriquez, a counselor and Hispanic outreach coordinator at the Domestic Violence Center, said staff members know they can count on Copley.

"She doesn't say no to any project involving the Hispanic community," Enriquez said. "She's a real asset to our community."

Livesay said Copley is also a solid representative for the Police Department.

"She is everything we embody our officers to be," he said. "She makes us look good."

As an added bonus, Livesay said, Copley is a part-time police recruiter who helps the department attract quality minority candidates.

Born to Mexican parents, Copley was raised in Houston in a Spanish-speaking home. The family moved to Columbia for a few years, and Copley attended Hammond High School.

As a young woman, Copley said she saw numerous Hispanic friends in abusive, and sometimes violent, situations.

"I understand what the women are going through," Copley said.

Cultural values encouraging Hispanic women to stay home and obey their husbands, coupled with fears of deportation, fuel domestic violence problems in the Hispanic community, Copley said.

Enriquez pointed to several cases in which Copley was able to sift the truth from complex domestic situations. Copley spoke with a Spanish-speaking woman arrested for battery and discovered the woman was defending herself from an abusive husband, Enriquez said.

"Once the victim is able to talk to a female police officer, it's easier to figure out what has happened," Enriquez said.

Copley estimated she responds to several domestic violence calls every night during her patrol shift in the Harper's Choice area.

In her off hours, she works several part-time security jobs and spends time with her 8-year-old son, Casey, who she said is proud that his mom is a police officer. Her husband, a Prince George's County police officer, is supportive of her career and volunteer work, she said.

"Police officers are heroes to a lot of people," Copley said. "I love helping people, and I love making a difference."

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